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COVID Courage: How to Just Say “No” This Season

The holidays are typically a time where families, friends and coworkers spend a lot of time together. But it’s 2020, and we are living in a pandemic. There will be many moments and decisions that challenge us this year, like do you go to that  work luncheon? How about a small gathering with only your parents? Or what about worship service?

Here are some ways to approach these decisions and conversations in a supportive way while staying true to who you are and what matters most to you.

Creating boundaries

Boundaries help establish guardrails on what gets a “yes” and what gets a “no”. What matters most to you and your immediate family? What are you willing and unwilling to sacrifice for your physical, mental, and emotional health? Where do you personally stand on the advisories and guidance put forth by your community?

Once you’ve created your boundaries, tell yourself:

  • It’s my responsibility to make decisions for me – not others.
  • No one needs to agree with me and my decisions.
  • I own my feelings, beliefs and opinions.
  • I can respect or acknowledge the feelings, beliefs and opinions of others.
  • I am empowered to say no.
  • I don’t have to explain myself. 

Once you’ve created your boundaries, share them with those that mean the most to you so they understand where you’re coming from and can support you on your decisions.

Saying “no”

Let’s admit – it’s hard to say “no”. We fear conflict, criticism and neglect, especially from those whom we care about the most. But we have much more to be concerned about than if someone talks about us behind our back at that party we declined to attend. Here are some alternatives to just saying “no”.

Think it through before you respond

If you’re unsure whether it’s something you’re comfortable with, or not sure how to tell them “no”, take some time to assess the pros and cons, and talk it through with someone like your mom or spouse. Then formulate a simple response like the one below if you’ve decided the answer is “no”. You could say:

  • Let me think about that and get back to you.

Say no

If you know it’s a no-go, just say so. Your tone and actions can make all the difference, though. You could say:

  • That doesn’t work for me.
  • I’m just not able to say yes to that. But thank you for asking!
  • Thank you for thinking of me, but I won’t be able to attend/do this.
  • I appreciate you asking, but I can’t.
  • Oh, I wish we could! That just isn’t doable for me right now.

Say no and share your why

If you’ve been modeling COVID safety, or you’re an open person and willing to share your why, this is the time to do it! Revisit those boundaries you created and be honest with those you care about regarding your reason behind declining. Or, you could keep it simple like:

  • I know this is important, but my safety matters more.
  • I’m not comfortable with that because of COVID, thank you though!

Offer up an alternative solution

Saying no does not mean that you don’t want to be connected and celebrate the holidays together. If you’re saying no, consider speaking up and taking the lead on coordinating a way to connect virtually, like organizing a virtual gift swap or dialing in during the in-person event that’s happening. You could also consider sending food for the attending guests or a lovely gift to the host. Just because you’re not there in person doesn’t mean you’re not there in spirit! You can say:

  • I’m not able to do that, but here’s what I can do…
  • I’m not able to be in person, but I’d love to still participate virtually…

Saying no doesn’t have to catch you off guard or cause you to stumble over your words. Slow down, ask for time to think it through and be thoughtful and considerate with your response. We’re all navigating these situations together, and giving a little grace to each other can ease these sometimes difficult decisions.